By Patricia Kingswell 11:18 am PST
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As of Feb 5., the number of people confirmed to be infected by China’s novel coronavirus has skyrocketed to almost 30,000 and near 600 people have died.

Gilead Sciences—a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on innovative medicines—is hoping their experimental drug, Remdesivir, can combat the symptoms of China’s novel coronavirus.

The American company, which focuses primarily on antiviral drugs, said in a statement that Remdesivir has shown some success in treating the MERS and SARS viruses, as well as in the emergency treatment of patients with Ebola.

The antiviral drug has not been officially licensed or approved for treatment by any global health organization, added Gilead, who are now working with Chinese health authorities.

China commenced a phase III trial on Monday (Feb. 3) to see if patients with the 2019-nCoV coronavirus can be treated with Gilead’s nucleos(t)ide analogue (NUC) inhibitor drug.

The three-week study is expected to conclude on Feb. 27. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study is to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of Remdesivir in hospitalized adult patients. 270 patients are enrolled in Beijing’s China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

“Remdesivir is not a well-proven drug in either the U.S. or China,” said He Gongxin, former chief representative of the Shanghai office at Gilead, in an interview with BioWorld.

“Since 2019-nCoV is a new virus, we’ll just try it. There are good scientific reasons for us to believe it could be safe and efficacious. I believe this is the best chance we have for now,” he added.

A paper in The New England Journal of Medicine published Jan. 31 reported that a 35-year-old hospitalized patient in the U.S. with the novel coronavirus had improved in condition after receiving remdesivir. His fever went down from 39.4 degrees Celsius to 37.3 degrees Celsius, oxygen saturation values improved to 96%, and the previous bilateral lower-lobe rales had disappeared. On January 31, 5 days after treatment, he was said to be afebrile, with only a cough left.

“Remdesivir has demonstrated in vitro and in vivo activity in animal models against the viral pathogens MERS and SARS, which are coronaviruses that are structurally similar to 2019-nCoV,” says Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer.

Currently, there are over 40 drugs under international development in efforts to fight the coronavirus, with 25% of focus concentrated on SARS and 65% on MERS.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are working on vaccines, while AbbVie (ABBV) are offering China a mixture of two of its HIV medications and Tamiflu, produced in a joint venture by Swiss pharma giant Roche (RHHBF) and Japan’s Chugai Pharmaceutical Co (CHGCY).

It may take a year or more until a vaccine is publically available, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Led by microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, Hong Kong scientists are developing a 2019-nCoV vaccine by modifying an influenza vaccine with a part of the surface antigen of the coronavirus. Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ) is also working on a vaccine.

“The most optimistic timeline to get a vaccine in a human trial is still a few months away… Immediately, the best we can hope for is that these other antiviral treatments may have an effect,” says Bloomburg columnist, Max Nisen.